Wildcats fall short of major upset of Golden Eagles

Brett Klein

The men’s soccer team tied each of its two games over Fall Break—first playing to a draw at home against Seton Hall and then nearly defeating No. 7 ranked Marquette on the road. 

The team’s record now sits at 6-5-3 with a Big East record of 1-2-2. Last Wednesday’s hard-fought match at the Higgins Soccer Complex was as wild as a 1-1 stalemate can be. 

After grabbing a 1-0 lead courtesy of a goal from senior midfielder Hayden Harr off a headed assist from senior defenseman Colton Bryant, the ’Cats fought through a perilous string of penalty kicks from the Pirates. All three PKs, each of which was awarded due to a handball, came during an 18-minute span as time ticked away in the second half.

For Seton Hall’s first PK, redshirt senior midfielder Victor Manosalvas stepped up with a chance to tie the game but was denied by sophomore goalkeeper Will Steiner. Steiner leapt to the right side of the net to knock the ball out of the way before it reached the goal line. 

With only four minutes left in regulation, ’Nova was called for its second handball, leaving it up to Steiner once again to preserve the slim lead. And, he did. 

The ’Cats could not catch a break, however, and almost immediately the Pirates had their third chance to knot the score. Senior midfielder Kai Greene stepped up and did just that. 

“We got a bit unlucky,” Steiner said. “But, it happens sometimes. Had we converted more of our chances of scoring goals, the PK calls would not have mattered.” 

Despite the misfortune, Steiner refused to surrender the lead. 

“There isn’t much in depth about my strategy for saving PKs,” Steiner said. “It’s mostly just instinct.” 

After the tumultuous series of handballs finally came to an end, the ’Cats were lucky not to be trailing. With about eight minutes left in regulation, Pirates freshman defenseman Lukas Pangonis picked up his second yellow card, which put the ’Cats up a man. Villanova played the two 10-minute overtime periods with this advantage but still was unable to push across the game-winning goal despite holding the advantage in shots, 4-2. 

Then on Saturday night, the Wildcats found themselves up 1-0 on Marquette in the first half thanks to Harr, who found the net for his sixth goal of the season after senior midfielder Oscar Umar had his shot blocked. 

Despite trailing on the scoreboard, Marquette dominated the first half. The Golden Eagles fired 13 shots compared to Villanova’s four, and were granted eight corner kicks while ’Nova had none. 

“[Marquette] had a lot of corner kicks because they created a lot of chances and had most of the possession,” senior forward Aaron Dennis said. 

The Wildcats’ defense stayed tough in spite of Marquette’s scoring chances, keeping the 1-0 advantage until the very last minute of regulation. 

“Our defense played great,” Dennis said. “And Steiner did a great job on the corner kicks in terms of getting to the ball before any other player.” 

With just over a minute to play in regulation, the Golden Eagles began to rapidly advance the ball toward Villanova’s goal. 

Marquette senior midfielder Sebastian Jansson sent a cross into the box that found sophomore midfielder Louis Bennett II who fired a shot past Steiner to even the score. 

In the first extra session, the Wildcats put pressure on the Marquette defense, nearly regaining the lead with on multiple occasions. A header from Bryant, which came off a feed from Umar, nearly gave Villanova the lead, but it sailed over the crossbar. 

Later in extra time, Harr and sophomore midfielder Padraic McCullaugh broke toward the Marquette goal on a two-on-one but came up empty-handed when the lone defenseman broke up the play. While the ’Cats nearly came away with the upset after squandering the lead in the final minute of regulation, the players wouldn’t let that weigh on them.

“We know that when we play the way we can, we can beat any team we face,” Steiner said. “I think we proved that again tonight.” 

The Wildcats return to the field this Saturday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. at the Higgins Soccer Complex when Butler comes to town. 

“Although this result [against Marquette] hurts because of how close we were,” Steiner said. “Our mindset will still be positive and we’re focused on winning the next game.